In the past week, I've given four talks on self-love, and I've been amazed at the audience reactions. During the first talk, I opened with Christine Arylo's definition of self-love:
"Self-love is the unconditional love and respect you have for yourself that is so deep, so solid, so unwavering that you choose only situations and relationships -- including the one you have with yourself -- that reflect that same unconditional love and respect."
Immediately a hand went up. "You don't mean what I say to myself when I look in the mirror, right?"
"Is that showing yourself unconditional love and respect?" I countered.
"Well no, but that's my body... Wait -- you mean the negative conversations I have with myself every time I get dressed are not self-love?" she asked.
"No," I informed her.
She was shocked and asked the women around her to back her up on this fact that your body is different from yourself.
I then went on to explain that self-love is not self-esteem. That self-esteem is a component of self-love, but there is so much more to it than that. Things like self-appreciation, self-honor, self-acceptance, self-respect... And all those nasty things we say to ourselves? None of that is loving. And it hurts us, deeply.
Did you know that our brains are actually wired to focus on negative things? So much so that negative statements carry five times the weight of positive ones? That means that for every negative thing you think about yourself, you need to counter it with five positive statements to cancel out the weight of that one negative statement? What's worse -- our brains don't know the difference between what we think, say, and hear.
So thinking to yourself, "I am so fat" is the same as telling someone else or yourself, "You are so fat" is the same as watching a television show where one character says to another one, "You are so fat." Shocking, isn't it?
Maybe, but it's also survival. Thousands of years ago we needed to be aware of negative things in our environment because those things might kill us. So seeing a saber tooth tiger, hearing one roar or hearing a fellow tribesman yell, "Look out! There's a saber tooth tiger!", and thinking, "Wow that's a saber tooth tiger -- I should probably get out of here!" were all equally powerful. (You can blame something in our brains called mirror neurons for that) And they should have been. A saber tooth tiger was bad news if you were its intended dinner.
Our modern day brains don't realize that the days of saber tooth tigers are long gone. So they're still on the lookout for potential threats in our environment. Hence, the focus on negative thoughts, words, beliefs, and actions. Your body's -- and brain's -- job is to keep you alive. It doesn't realize that focusing on the negative statement, "You are so fat," isn't helping your survival. In fact, it's likely hurting it.
So do yourself a favor this week. When you start picking at yourself, stop. Give yourself some love and affection instead. Your brain -- and your body -- will thank you for it.